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11 Jan, 2019 17:58

‘Goat Fund Me’: California city’s audacious plan to fight wildfires with farm animals

‘Goat Fund Me’: California city’s audacious plan to fight wildfires with farm animals

California has been ravaged by brutal, ever-worsening wildfires in recent years, with death tolls mounting and costs skyrocketing, but one city has developed an ingenious plan to fight fire…with goats.

Flanked on all sides by forests replete with dried brush and bristles, the perfect kindling for the kinds of wildfires that scorched vast swathes of California in recent years with devastating effect, sits Nevada City.

Less than 70 miles away lies the town of Paradise, scene of some of the most intense and emotional wildfire moments in recent memory. To avert a similar disaster in the near future, Nevada City has taken to crowdfunding a radical preemptive effort to tackle the danger by employing goats (well, their herders, but you get the idea) to clear brush from the outskirts of the town.

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A combination of climate change, an ongoing drought and seasonal winds is the widely-held explanation for California's recent ferocious wildfires. To make matters worse, California authorities are notoriously lackadaisical about clearing the forest brush that eventually becomes tinder.

By comparison, the southeastern US performed controlled burns on 5.5 million acres of brush, roughly 100 times what California managed in an area one-fifth the size during the same period, reports Wired.

Prescribed burns are notoriously expensive, but goat vegetation management (including ‘muscle’ in the form of dogs to protect against wildcats and other predators) runs at a cost of $1,000 per acre, at a rate of roughly an acre a day.

“I realized money was an issue,” Nevada City vice mayor Reinette Senum, who launched the ‘Goat Fund Me’ campaign, told Wired. “We can go out and pursue grants but that takes months, and we don’t have months.”

The idea is surprisingly straightforward: it involves deploying a ‘mobile ranch’ with all the infrastructure needed, including solar-powered electric fences, to keep the goats penned in a particular area.

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“A bad day would be, you get a call that all your animals are two miles away from where they’re supposed to be,” says Brad Fowler, owner of vegetation management company The Goat Works, which has been employed by the city to clear the dry brush. “The good news is when that happens, people don’t get as upset about it as they would if, say, your bulldozer got loose and ran over a bunch of houses.”  

The elite goat team operates as the fire prevention vanguard, which is then followed by human crews armed with chainsaws who clear away the bulkier brush.

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